The French Revolution A Timeline by Matt Smith

Financial Turmoil

King Louis XVI (left) and Queen Marie Antoinette (right) of France

King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France had spent a lot of the country's money. The king was sending money to the American colonies to aid them in their fight against Great Britain. The queen was squandering money on clothes, shoes, makeup, hair, and other things for her own entertainment. What she didn't spend on materialistic things, she gambled away at card tables and casinos. France had no money left, and the king wanted to raise taxes on an already poor population.

Storming of the Bastille

Storming of the Bastille

The French population felt that the Bastille was a symbol of their corrupt government who didn't care about them. The Bastille was a large fortress used as a prison located in Paris. On July 14, 1789, a mob of angry Frenchmen and -women infiltrated the prison, wanting only to take weapons, gunpowder, ammunition, and other resources to aid in their intention to get the attention of or overthrow the government. Government officials, innocent bystanders, and members of the massive mob all died during the siege, and the day is now remembered in France as le quatorze juillet, (Bastille Day, in English).

A Forced Relocation

The King and Queen return to Paris

A group of women (and some men) marched to the palace in Versailles to demand that the King and Queen lower the prices of bread. Eventually, the mob forced the monarchs back to their palace in Paris to take care of the growing turmoil.

An Attempt to Flee

The King and Queen are arrested in Varennes

In 1791, the King had become so stressed by the happenings in Paris, that, at the urging of the Queen, he decided to get the royal family out of the country, leaving the political decisions up to his advisers. He and the Queen tried to get out of France by disguising themselves and their family as middle-class civilians, but someone recognized the King from the picture that had been printed on new French gold coins. The entire royal family was arrested by the locals of Varennes, and returned to Paris under heavy guard.

Abolishing the Monarchy

French Constitution of 1791

Wanting to get rid of the crumbling monarchy, the people of France forced King Louis XVI to sign the Constitution of 1791. While the constitution didn't get rid of the monarchy entirely, it certainly limited the powers of the monarchy, and created the 3-bodied government modeled after the newly-created United States of America. It also established the Legislative Assembly, which created an election process for representatives in the new government.

War on Austria

Battle of Valmy

The new 3-bodied government feared that Austria, whose Emperor was Queen Marie Antoinette's brother, would try to reinstate the newly-dismissed monarchs as the true rulers of France. As a preemptive strike, the new government declared war on Austria in order to defend their new republic. After a marginal win at the Battle of Valmy (pictured above) the government decided to hold a new assembly to strengthen this new republic.

French First Republic

Assembly of the French First Republic

In September 1792, the government held a National Convention to rewrite their constitution. During the convention, King Louis XVI was tried and convicted for conspiracy against the liberty of the nation. This conviction formally abolished the monarchy in France.

Execution and War

Executions of Louis XVI

Louis XVI was executed in January 1793 by the guillotine. While the people of France rejoiced at the news, the other European kingdoms were unsettled and worried about their own crowns. To make an example of the French, the Nederlands, Great Britain, Spain, and Sardinia, all sent troops to fight against the revolutionaries. While this made life difficult for the new republic, the government created a draft to enlist able-bodied men to fight for their freedom.

Reign of Terror

9 Emigrants are Executed by Madame Guillotine

After seeing all of the unrest, both domestic and foreign, a party called the Jacobins rose to power and decided to make examples of all those who opposed republican rule. During a period known as the Reign of Terror, these radicals established neighborhood watches, a secret police, and employed spies to see who was and wasn't loyal to the new government. Anyone who showed the slightest dislike for the new republic was sent to the guillotine to be made an example of. It is estimated that 17,000 people were executed during that terrible year.

Ending the Reign

Execution of Marie Antoinette

During the Reign of Terror, the former queen of France, Marie Antoinette, was executed by guillotine in October 1793. The story goes that she accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner on her way to the platform, enticing her to apologize, saying she did not mean to do it. Many people believe she was apologizing for her part in this bloodshed, though no one knows for sure. In July 1794, Maximilien de Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins, was executed, formally ending his Reign of Terror.

The French Directory

Paul Barras in the ceremonial dress of a Director

After the Reign of Terror, the National Convention met again to re-establish an effective government. This time, the leaders were made up of 5 men, called Directors. These Directors ruled until 1799, using force to settle disputes within the country. During this time, the rich became richer, and the poor became poorer, leading to another's rise in power and another step in the bloody French Revolution.

Ending the Revolution

Napoleon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Bonaparte had made a name for himself during the Revolution as one of the best generals in the French army. He was skillful, cunning, and was able to expand France's territory and squash many rebellions, and led a surprising victory over the large Austrian army. He returned to Paris in October 1799 and led a coup over the Directors, establishing himself as Emperor of France. He established many reforms that helped improve France's economy and brought stability back to the nation.


Created with images by nathanh100 - "Flag of France, Undated"

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